Learn more about bacterial vaginosis: introduction
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common infection of the vagina. It's harmless and easily treated. It's not classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Things you can do yourself
To help relieve symptoms and prevent bacterial vaginosis from returning:
- use water and an emollient, such as E45 cream, or plain soap to wash your genital area
- have showers instead of baths
- use perfumed soaps, bubble bath or shower gel
- use vaginal deodorants, washes or douches
- put antiseptic liquids in the bath
- use strong detergents to wash your underwear
A pharmacist can help with bacterial vaginosis
A pharmacist can recommend the most effective treatment for your symptoms.
You can buy treatments for BV without a prescription, but there's no clear proof they work.
See a GP if:
- has a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex
- is white or grey
- is thin and watery
Bacterial vaginosis doesn't usually cause any soreness or itching. If you're unsure it's BV check vaginal discharge.
Sexual health clinics can help with bacterial vaginosis
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you don't need an appointment. They'll often get test results quicker than GP practices.
What happens at your appointment
Your GP or sexual health clinic will want to confirm it's BV and rule out a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
You'll be asked about your symptoms. If it's not clear it's BV:
- a doctor or nurse may look at your vagina
- a cotton bud may be wiped over the discharge inside your vagina to test for other infections
This won't hurt but it may feel uncomfortable.
Treatment for bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotic tablets or gel. These are prescribed by your GP or sexual health clinic.
If you're pregnant, it's often safe to use treatment.
Partners don't need treatment, unless female partners have symptoms.
Recurring bacterial vaginosis
It's common for BV to come back, usually within 3 months.
You'll need to take treatment for longer (up to 6 months) if you keep getting BV (you get it more than twice in 6 months). Your GP or sexual health clinic will recommend how long you need to treat it.
They can also help identify if something is triggering your BV, such as sex or your period.
What causes bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there's a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina. What causes this to happen isn't fully known, but you're more likely to get it if:
- you're sexually active
- you've had a change of partner
- you have an IUD (contraception device)
- you use perfumed products in or around your vagina
BV is not classed as an STI, even though it can be triggered by sex. A woman can pass it to another woman during sex.
But women who haven't had sex can also get BV.
Bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy
If you develop bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy, there's a small risk of complications, such as premature birth or miscarriage.
However, BV causes no problems in the majority of pregnancies. Speak to your GP or midwife if you're pregnant and your vaginal discharge changes.